Statement by Ms. Carolyn Hannan


Division for the Advancement of Women

Department of Economic and Social Affairs

United Nations



Distinguished Participants,


It is an honour and a pleasure for me to address this meeting in my capacity as Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. I would like to congratulate Ms. Leila Milani and other members of the Working Group on Ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on this important new publication on CEDAW. I want to assure you that the Division for the Advancement of Women will use the new publication very effectively in its work.


I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Senator Barbara Boxer, Senator Joseph Biden, Senator Bill Nelson and the late Senator Paul Wellstone. I know there are many other individuals and groups I should also acknowledge and thank for their support for the ratification of CEDAW. I also want to thank the Working Group and the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area and for bringing so many people together for this luncheon. 


The new publication is particularly pertinent for the work of the Division for the Advancement of Women.  The Division is responsible for, among other things, the substantive and technical servicing of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the expert body responsible for monitoring implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In addition, the Division provides advisory services and technical cooperation programmes, on request of Member States, aimed at supporting the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and its Optional Protocol at national level.  This work includes supporting the capacity of States parties to meet their reporting obligations under the Convention and training judges and lawyers on the use of the Convention. The Division has recently begun working on implementation of the Convention in countries emerging from conflict, including Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.


Ladies and gentlemen,


            The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1979.  Often described as the international bill of rights for women, it is the international human rights treaty that addresses most comprehensively women’s equality with men and non-discrimination in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural fields.  The Optional Protocol to this Convention entered into force on 22 December 2000.  It entitles individuals or groups of individuals, once certain admissibility criteria have been met, to submit claims of violations of the Convention to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  It also provides the Committee with the power to inquire into grave or systematic violations of the Convention in States parties.  The total number of States parties to the Convention presently stands at 177 (making it one of the most widely ratified international human rights treaties – second only to the Convention on the Rights of the Child). Only 14 Member States of the UN have not ratified the Convention. Currently 60 States parties have ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention. 


            The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is the body of 23 independent experts established by the Convention to monitor its implementation in those States that have ratified or acceded to the Convention.  Upon ratification or accession to the Convention, States parties assume specific obligations for the full implementation of the Convention at the national level.  States parties are expected to embody the principle of equality of women and men in their national constitutions or other appropriate legislation, and to ensure through law and other appropriate means, the practical realization of this principle.  The Convention also requires States parties to pursue a policy of eliminating discrimination against women, and to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination, whether committed by public authorities or by any person or organization. 


Distinguished Senators, ladies and gentlemen,


The CEDAW Convention has been instrumental in shaping the legal and policy framework and furthering the international agenda on the human rights of women.  It has been an inspiration for women in all parts of the world and has been responsible for significant change at the country level, as well as in the international sphere.  Women’s groups and networks have effectively used the Convention to combat discrimination, including in the areas of violence against women, poverty, lack of legal status, inability to inherit or own property, and lack of access to credit.


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women provides all countries with a benchmark against which to assess progress on the elimination of discrimination against women, over time, and in a systematic manner.  A “value added” of the Convention is the fact that it has a global reach, being relevant for all countries in the world. This Convention is also unique in that it elaborates the meaning of discrimination against women, on the basis of sex, in all spheres: civil, political, economic, social and cultural.  It establishes obligations for States parties to eliminate discrimination in the enjoyment of all rights, and also requires States parties to take measures to eliminate discrimination in the private sphere, including in private enterprise and in the family. These obligations are with respect to the elimination of de jure, as well as de facto discrimination. This is important in countries where the laws may be very good, but where practice leaves much to be desired.  The obligation in article 5, for example, that the State party should take all appropriate measures to eliminate patterns of behaviour that lead to the stereotyping of the roles of women and men, is critical for addressing the underpinnings of gender discrimination that are notoriously difficult to influence.


The strength of the CEDAW process is its binding nature and periodicity, i.e. the fact that States Parties are required to report on a regular basis.  Reporting to the CEDAW Committee should be an integral part of national-level processes of assessing the impact of efforts to reduce discrimination and to promote gender equality. CEDAW provides a very useful process of continuous self-reflection at national level – with the assistance of an independent expert body. Reporting should be viewed as a dynamic process with real potential for promoting concrete change.


The Convention has had a positive impact on legal and other developments in support of gender equality in countries throughout the world.  Developments include the strengthening of provisions in Constitutions of many countries guaranteeing equality between women and men and providing a constitutional basis for the protection of women’s human rights.  For example, the revised Brazilian Constitution includes extensive guarantees reflective of the Convention, and the South African Constitution contains significant provisions guaranteeing women’s equality. 


In some countries, commissions to review legislation and propose reform in the spirit of the Convention have been established, including the Ugandan Law Reform Commission, whose first task was to propose amendments to the personal laws, which impacted negatively on women and girls.  After ratifying the Convention, Japan enacted a series of laws aimed at bringing existing Japanese legislation into conformity with the principles and obligations set out in the Convention, including amendments to its Equal Employment Opportunity Law. 


Temporary special measures to enhance women’s participation in politics have also been introduced, such as the constitutional amendment in France, which requires all political parties to ensure that 50 per cent of their candidates are women, and the quota of 30 reserved seats for women in Parliament in Morocco.  


Judges have used the Convention in their decision-making.  For example, the Botswana Court of Appeal relied on international treaties, including the Convention, to uphold a challenge to the provisions of the nationality law, which at the time did not permit a Botswanan woman, married to a non-Botswanan national to pass on her nationality to her children. The Supreme Court of Nepal relied on the Convention in calling for the Government to introduce a bill to Parliament to address discriminatory laws which provided that while a son was entitled to a share of his father’s property at birth, a daughter was only able to obtain a share when she reached the age of 35 and was unmarried.  The Supreme Court of Canada also invoked the Convention and the Committee’s general recommendation no. 19 on violence against women in a case of alleged sexual assault.  The Constitutional Court of Guatemala referred to the Convention in upholding a challenge to provisions in the penal code, which treated men and women differently. 


            In other countries, mechanisms to ensure effective protection of women’s rights have been established.  In Costa Rica, for example, an independent Commissioner for Women, who conducts activities aimed at informing different sectors of the population about their rights and the mechanisms available for defending them, as well as an Office of Women’s Affairs, which receives, reviews and refers complaints of domestic violence, have been established.


Ladies and gentlemen,


            Gender equality is a goal that has been increasingly accepted by governments and international organizations.  Attention to women’s full enjoyment of all their human rights has also increased remarkably in recent years.  The situation of women is being addressed more systematically within the framework of guarantees of equal enjoyment of rights and of non-discrimination. 


            It is clear, however, that there are persistent global patterns to inequality between women and men. Women tend to suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners more often than men; women’s political participation and their representation in decision-making structures lag behind men’s; women and men have different economic opportunities; women are over-represented among the poor; women do not have equal opportunity in education; and women and girls make up the majority of people trafficked and involved in the sex trade.  These issues - and others - need to be addressed in efforts to promote gender equality. 


As we look forward to commemorating the 25th anniversary of the adoption by the General Assembly of the Convention later in the year, we will use the occasion not only to celebrate our achievements and the distance the international community has travelled in protecting and promoting women’s human rights during this time, but also to look at the challenges and obstacles that still lie ahead to reach the goal of full implementation of the Convention’s principles universally. 


Distinguished Senators,


            The United States has always been in the forefront in the promotion of the rule of law, justice, pro-democratic development, and human rights.  The United States has consistently promoted and advocated for women’s rights, particularly in giving meaning to the principle of the equality of women and men, in both its domestic and foreign policy objectives.  The United States was instrumental in developing the international human rights framework, which exists today and, in particular, was active in drafting the CEDAW Convention. Nevertheless, although the United States signed the Convention 20 years ago on 17 July 1980 as one of the first countries to do so, and made ratification of the Convention a specific commitment at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, it still awaits ratification. 


            The United States is party to other international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratification in 1992); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ratification in 1994); and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratification in 1994).


            Many states, counties and cities in the United States have passed resolutions in support of CEDAW, and over 190 national organizations – including religious, legal, medical, academic and environmental organizations have endorsed CEDAW.


            In not ratifying CEDAW, the United States has relinquished an important opportunity to influence the further development of women’s human rights at global level. As party to the Convention, the United States could nominate a US expert for election as a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which monitors the implementation of the Convention and its Optional Protocol. A US expert could bring the benefit of the United States national experience in combating discrimination against women to the international forum.  United State’s support for CEDAW would make it a stronger instrument.


The continuing efforts to push ratification of the Convention forward, by the Working Group, the UN Association of the National Capital Area, and other groups, networks and individuals, have been encouraging. The vote in 2002 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve the Convention, thus sending the treaty to the full Senate for a vote on ratification, was an important step forward. 


I know that you all agree with me on how important it is for the United States to support this international human rights treaty.  Ratification of CEDAW would demonstrate to the world the continuing commitment of the United States to promoting and protecting equality for its own citizens, and would set the stage for a continuing leadership role in ensuring women's human rights around the world.


            I wish you the best in your future deliberations and efforts on this matter and pledge the support of the Division for the Advancement of Women in whatever way possible. 



Thank you.